A focus on teaching and learning

Written by: Ray Lau | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As part of the bid to pull his school out of special measures, vice-principal Ray Lau focused on developing the quality and impact of teaching and learning

Waverley Studio College has around 230 students and 97 per cent of them are from an ethnic minority heritage background. We admit an increasing proportion of students from overseas, who speak very little or no English. Part of the Waverley Educational Trust’s values is “learning through diversity”.

In May 2015 the school was placed in special measures. Following my time on the Future Leaders programme, I became vice principal in September 2016. My responsibilities include teaching, professional development, behaviour, attendance, cover, examinations and day-to-day operations.

In any school, the quality of teaching is the core purpose of the establishment and ensuring students get effective teaching is essential. Because of this, I chose to improve the quality of teaching and learning as part of my strategic role.

The plan

I knew that Ofsted’s next monitoring visit was due in the autumn term of 2016. My intention was to review the quality of teaching systems, assess the quality of teaching and learning within the classrooms and increase the professional development activities of middle leaders and teachers. In the spring term, the focus was to introduce research-based practice. These are some of the actions and strategies we undertook...

Learning walks

We had already established a working monitoring process so I continued to conduct formal and graded observations. However, to balance this approach, I introduced non-assessed learning walks as a way of sharing best practice.

Teaching files

An example of exceptional practice to me is our teaching files. For anyone visiting a classroom, teachers have a file set up so that the curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment is in one place and kept up-to-date.

The consistent practice across the college aided the monitoring process. The concept and idea was created by the previous principal. What I did was to re-align the paperwork and make this even more systematic.

Observing learning

The focus of lesson observations was changed to “observations of learning”. I decided to combine different sources of evidence (the use of students’ books, work and data; discussions with students and the teacher’s evidence) as part of the evidence to consider the progress learners were making over time.

Triangulating evidence

Using my previous inspection experience (having been an inspector for 10 years and having led 40 inspections), I worked with colleagues in upskilling them in how to “triangulate” the evidence and ensure the judgements made were accurate. This process was done through “modelling”, where at first I would lead the process from start to finish, then the colleague would partly lead some of the process and, finally, they would lead the entire process. It became a more holistic approach to making key judgements, as achievements within lessons, direct observations and student discussions all contributed.

Student discussions

Introducing student discussions, both formally in observations of learning within the classroom and also separately away from the classroom, was new for many leaders. Through modelling the process on different occasions to the co-observer, then encouraging the leaders to subsequently ask specific questions to learners, this enabled the observers to probe and check the level of students’ understanding and extension.

The questions focused on their learning over time and showing examples of this in their work. In addition, questions around responding to verbal and written feedback and the next steps were identified.

When working with learners, it was always useful to ask questions such as “Can you show me a piece of work where... ?” (e.g. where the student responded to the teacher’s feedback and improved their work). The dialogue between the teachers and students improved, and became more focused on learning. Work scrutiny happened weekly and was monitored by the senior leadership team at the beginning of our regular meetings. This aided the focus on marking, feedback and frequency of the learners’ work.


One of the most important aspects of summarising the information on teaching and learning was rewriting the college’s self-evaluation form, especially with regards to the quality of teaching.

Naturally, utilising information from the data and other sources of evidence, this was written in an inspection style report and was summarised with the key points against the key inspection headings.

We reduced the self-evaluation form to just six pages in total, with a one-page at-a-glance summary. This highlighted the provision (what we did), the impact (so what?) and outcomes (how this was measured?) which was invaluable at the time of the next monitoring visit.

Blended approach

One of the most important aspects of developing teaching and learning has been to introduce a blended approach to mentoring and coaching techniques through the development of middle leaders. For example, the English lead teacher was new to leadership and required confidence building in mentoring for writing her self-evaluation. By contrast, when it came to analysing the progress of different learners, the use of a targeted questioning (coaching) perspective was more useful. A year on, her leadership has flourished, and her passion is evident as she continues to contribute.

The introduction of research through a collaborative approach has enabled staff to work across the curriculum. I set out to address some of the post-Ofsted action areas, with staff working together.

For example, I worked with the head of English and her teaching assistant in devising strategies for promoting greater oracy with our English as an additional language (EAL) learners. The activities included conducting a literature review, researching best practice, devising a research question, creating resources and piloting these in the classroom. We presented our findings to the school, thus promoting discussion and interest.


The staff at Waverley are fully dedicated to the students and are passionate in “going the extra mile”, not only to raise aspirations, but also to get the school out of special measures. Teachers were positive about the measures but the notion of having enough time to do things was always an issue. Students were positive in response to teachers and were active and engaging in their learning.

The impact

The school was successfully removed from special measures and judged to be good in January 2017. Our self-evaluation reflected the nature of the college’s journey, which meant that outcomes for pupils required improvement, but all other judgements (including teaching) were good. Through my previous experience, I was able to work with the principal in placing a case for “exceptional circumstances”. This included that over time, the Progress 8 score had moved from -2 (2015) to -0.59 (2016). The current data demonstrated a significant upward improvement, but was yet to be confirmed in judgements. However, it is now +0.05 (in 2017).

Also, we faced greater difficulty as we received students in year 10 and had approximately five terms to get them prepared for Level 2 qualifications. The inspection report concluded: “The quality of teaching, learning and assessment has been improving over time. Lesson observations during the inspection supported this and there was clear evidence in pupils’ books and portfolios of the good progress that they are making.”

Our English and maths combined results rose from 24 to 52 per cent (9 to 4 or equivalent) and the quality of teaching moved to 94 per cent good or better, with one-third being outstanding.


The most powerful tool at my disposal was networking and sharing ideas with my fellow Future Leaders cohort. The midlands cohort was especially fantastic, because there was so much mutual respect and support for each other.

The “study tour’ to London enabled a great insight into both primary and secondary settings. The visit to Surrey Square Primary School was truly inspiring as the hard work, dedication and commitment to raising children’s aspirations permeated across the school in what they do. I’ve learnt several ideas to be adapted from the primary school for use in our college. In my view, it is very worth secondary colleagues visiting and recognising the work of our primary counterparts and learning everything we can from them.

The future

I’d like to introduce coaching in our school on a formal basis to further develop teaching and learning teams. The use of the Coachmark accreditation has previously enabled me to develop a culture of aspiration and a structure for coaching to work at different levels.


The leadership of teaching and learning is critical to the success of what a school does. However, the way we engage people, gain buy-in to our vision, values and ethos, with our ability to manage change will affect just how good the quality of our teaching and learning will become. 

  • Ray Lau is vice-principal at Waverley Studio College in Birmingham. He is currently studying on the Master of Science course in learning and teaching at Oxford University and is a graduate (2016) of Ambition School Leadership’s Future Leaders programme.

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk


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